U.S. fishing for Fraser River sockeye salmon will close a day early because of good success by fishermen, officials said Tuesday.
It had been estimated that U.S. fishermen would take about 85,000 fish from the early Stuart run during a scheduled four-day opening.
But state fisheries officials said non-Indian reef netters caught an estimated 11,500 salmon on the first day Saturday, while Indian fishing boats took somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 fish on Monday.
Figures from Tuesday’s fishing by non-Indian gillnetters weren’t available, but presumably would be enough to reach the target. That means today’s opening for non-Indian purse seiners was canceled.
The total early Stuart run, the first of the season to migrate home, is expected to be about 1.1 million fish, and Canada wants 500,000 of them to return to the Fraser River system to spawn.
Jim Hoff, director of intergovernmental fisheries for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia, said the decision to shut down the fishery a day early illustrates the “conservative approach” the United States is taking toward salmon management in the absence of a management treaty with Canada.
British Columbia Premier Glen Clark had accused the Americans of ignoring conservation needs by deciding to fish the early Stuart run without adequate scientific proof of its size.
U.S. officials will review updated figures on the estimated number of fish later this week and decide Thursday or Friday whether to allow additional fishing, Hoff said.
The strong catch indicates it’s very possible the run will be larger than initially forecast, Hoff said.
British Columbia fishermen began harvesting the early Stuart run on Monday.
Canada and the United States are setting their own fishing seasons because negotiators failed to reach agreement on renewal of the 1985 U.S.-Canada Salmon Treaty, which regulates harvests in waters off Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and southeast Alaska.
The Stuart run is politically hot because the Americans have not fished it since 1989 due to low numbers of fish. And the Canadians had asked at the recent salmon treaty talks that the Americans again abstain, according to Mike Forrest, a Canadian staff member of the bilateral Pacific Salmon Commission.
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